Every once in a while, a marketing gimmick manages to surprise. And on a Super Bowl Sunday when the Big Game’s signature commercials were nostalgia-heavy, tech-skeptical, and overall less than stellar, one of the messages that made the biggest impact came from one very small egg.
We begin with an egg — or rather, a specific photo of an egg. A month ago, said photo became a viral internet phenomenon after an anonymous Instagram user posted it to the account world_record_egg. The account’s sole purpose, at least at the time, was to unseat billionaire makeup mogul Kylie Jenner as the record holder for the world’s most-liked Instagram photo.
“Let’s set a world record together and get the most liked post on Instagram,” the caption beckoned, and people responded by liking the egg photo more than 52 million times — nearly three times above the paltry 18 million likes previously bestowed upon a photo of Jenner as a baby.
Soon after that, the egg began to hatch, and speculation raged as to what type of viral marketing scheme it might be part of. Now we know — and it ends with an unexpectedly positive and uplifting twist.
World_record_egg immediately became a viral cash cow — er, cash chicken
It turns out that having the most-liked post on Instagram is a lucrative opportunity. And shortly after the egg secured its world record, it began to tease some sort of big reveal — eventually promising a Super Bowl Sunday payoff.
We take you now to a time lapse of the egg:
As the egg’s cracks spread, a number of marketing agencies began to claim — some falsely — that they were working with the egg’s account holder to pursue various opportunities. Among them was Jerry Media, now infamous as the social media agency responsible for promoting 2017’s disastrous Fyre Festival. The agency, whose creator is also behind the currently extremely unpopular Instagram comedy account Fuck Jerry, claimed to be working with the egg in an “unofficial capacity” — and some analysts estimated that being the brand to “hatch” out of the egg could be worth up to $10 million.
Part of the reason for the egg’s assumed profitability was that it bore the appearance of a legitimately spontaneous internet phenomenon. But Buzzfeed pointed out that this might not be the case, and identified a London-based advertising company as possibly being responsible for fueling the egg’s viral growth.
Regardless, the egg’s virality soon appeared to have secured it a major collaboration — a partnership with Hulu. As the account revealed on February 1, something egg-citing was going to come out of its shell on Super Bowl Sunday.
“The wait is over,” the caption read. “All will be revealed this Sunday following the Super Bowl. Watch it first, only on @hulu.”
The egg’s Super Bowl reveal was perhaps the most unexpected promotion of the night
About an hour after the New England Patriots earned their sixth Super Bowl title and became one of the winningest teams in the history of the NFL, a new “show” went live on Hulu. Subscribers who hit play on the only available episode of World Record Egg — fittingly titled “The Reveal” — were met with a simple one-minute message from the egg itself.
What lay behind the Hulu paywall was certainly unexpected. Instead of branded sponsorship, a new TV series announcement, or even a self-promotional punchline, the egg’s big reveal was about mental health.
Making a pun on having “cracked” from all the social media pressure, the friendly egg pointed viewers to the website for the nonprofit group Mental Health America, with a reminder to “talk to someone” if ever you find yourself struggling with stress and other mental health issues.
“We got this,” the egg reminded us. It also floated the hashtag #TalkingEgg.
The egg reveal drew divided reactions
Mental Health America explained on Twitter that the egg’s account holder had independently contacted the organization about collaborating. An MHA spokesperson told Vox in an email that Hulu was on board with the project before the nonprofit was contacted, though it’s still unclear at what point, or how, Hulu and the egg decided to collaborate. (Vox has reached out to Hulu for comment.)
The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz, who initially brought the egg’s marketing antics to the public’s attention, had the night’s most brutal reaction.
Still, it’s clear that for some, the short, simple message hit home:
No matter what you think about the big egg reveal, and the resulting, er, eggsplosion of both praise and drama, there’s no denying that this lone Instagram account has managed to surprise us. Not only has it incidentally linked up some seriously random recent pop culture — from Kylie Jenner to Fyre Festival to the Super Bowl — it’s also reminded us that not everything that goes viral online will be co-opted by a terrible marketing ploy.
In this case, the egg stunt was a little gimmicky, at least in terms of gratuitous promotional material for Hulu. But it was inarguably successful at using the Super Bowl to draw attention to a serious and necessary message. There are worse ways to draw attention than by issuing a much-needed reminder to everyone to take care of ourselves, right?
Mental Health America staff certainly thought so. “We were thrilled that [the] world record egg used its big reveal to shine a light on mental health,” a spokesperson told Vox. “Whether you’re an egg or a person, it’s important to speak up about your mental health — and get help if you need it.”